Accent Reduction: 7 Ways to Pronounce Letter “A”

When there is a need for accent reduction to help speak English correctly, learning to pronounce the letter “A” can be valuable for non-native speakers of English, for professionals with heavy accents and even for native born Americans who grew up in areas of the US where regional dialects are heavy.

There are seven ways the letter “A” can be pronounced. Learning to discriminate which “A” sound to pronounce can be a challenge! For accent reduction, it is helpful to understand the 7 ways to pronounce the letter “A”.

I’ve posted an article on my website to explain the seven pronunciations of the “A” sounds which may be beneficial for people who need to reduce their accents.

Read this article



Public Speaking – You Can Think on Your Feet to Engage Listeners

Sandra Zimmer shares how she guides you to think on your feet and speak in the moment, creating brief but compelling public speaking talks that make people say, “Wow!”.

At Self-Expression Center, Sandra facilitates an 8-week public speaking program. Her Thinking on Your Feet class title is now called Group Speaking: Fast Track Program.

For information about an upcoming Group Speaking Fast Track Program, visit  our Schedule of Classes.



How to Communicate with Executives

If you are in a position to communicate with executives, it is important to learn the rules for delivering information to a top-level leader.

First, understand what an executive is, as it will help you understand how to communicate information to him or her. An executive is a decision-making top-level leader.  As such, the executive decides the course of action for the group, initiates the actions and inspires everyone else to carry out the plan. In order to make the correct decisions, the executive has to absorb and understand a massive amount of information without getting bogged down in too much detail. An executive relies on direct reports to feed him the information critical to his decision making process.

The key to communicating with executives is to understand that they don’t want too much detail. They can’t handle it. They call it “getting into the weeds.” Excessive details clog the thinking of the executive’s mind who needs to hear only the bottom line after you have sifted through all the details.

Realize the importance of your role as the one who feeds critical information to the executive. Your value is first your ability to distill the details down to a simple understandable bottom line, and secondly to communicate it to the executive so he or she can make the decisions to steer the organization successfully.

When reporting directly to an executive, if you try to explain the process of your thinking or understanding you may frustrate the executive to the point that he or she will replace you as fast as possible. If you want to be of service to and gain the trust of your executive, the following simple rules for communicating important messages may be helpful.

  1. Thoroughly sort through and digest the details of the information to be delivered.
  2. Decide what the bottom line is that will help your executive make the best decision.
  3. Be completely honest about your findings. Don’t make it better or worse than the truth.
  4. Start your message with an overarching statement of the bottom line.
  5. Share three important points that back up your key message.
  6. Prepare backup details in case they are needed.
  7. Close your message with an offer for further details if he or she wants them.

Direct reports often make two mistakes. The first mistake is thinking the exec wants to know everything they know. Executives don’t! They need a clear and uncluttered mind so they can make decisions. Do yourself and your senior leader a favor and keep your message simple but true.

The second mistake is to make the exec wait for your conclusions. Executives don’t like suspense. Put the bottom line first in your opening statement. That allows the executive to relax and process your backup material.

The rules for communicating with executives create the simplest kind of message. If you have moved into a position where you now report to an executive and you would like help in learning to deliver valuable messages, please reach out to me by phone or email. Find my contact information at my website


How to Develop Executive Presence and Gravitas

Executive Presence is hard to describe but easy to recognize in a room of people. In a group meeting, one person will stand out as a leader because that person exhibits a quality of gravitas. That person may or may not be the stated leader.

You’ll find an article at my website called “How to Develop Executive Presence and Gravitas” to help you understand one way to work on developing these important professional qualities.

In this article, I explore how to:

1.  Define the experience of executive presence in a bodily-felt way.

2.  Trigger your thinking about the many ways we talk about executive presence in common terms.

3.  Share my understanding about the value of grounding in the physical body for building gravitas.

4.  Point towards an in-the-body exercise for grounding so you can get started on developing your own executive presence and gravitas.

Please visit the article How to Develop Executive Presence and Gravitas here and share it with others who may be interested.

If you’d like to have a conversation about  building more executive presence to enhance your career, reach out to me by email or phone from my website



Qualities and Characteristics of Executive Presence

Developing executive presence is much like being an actor working to develop a character. The process is basically the same. You must step into the skin of a leader and embody the physical, mental and emotional characteristics so that you behave as an executive. As Constantine Stanislavski, the father of modern acting technique often said, you must act as if you are that character in that set of circumstances.

This article lists many of the qualities and characteristics that you must develop in order to show up with executive presence. I often coach emerging leaders to develop executive presentation and communication skills, so I am attempting to collect as complete a list as possible of qualities, characteristics and skills which cause others to perceive your executive presence. Each of these qualities can be learned and practiced.

What is an executive?

An executive is a decision-making top-level leader. As such, the executive decides the course of action, initiates the actions and inspires everyone else to carry out the plan. The executive holds the big picture or vision for the entire group. In order to make the correct decisions which will guide the organization successfully, the executive has to absorb and understand a massive amount of information without getting bogged down in too much detail.

Develop these characteristics to enhance executive presence

  1. Operate for the good of the whole organization, not just for yourself or favored individuals.
  2. Be able to make strong decisions.
  3. Be clear about your agenda which is what you want to accomplish in the organization.
  4. Be willing to stand firm for your agenda.
  5. Be willing to not be liked when you assert your ideas.
  6. Know what you think and feel so you can have your own authority from within.
  7. Know what your difference is. What you bring to the table that is different and valuable.
  8. Be willing to assert your difference at all levels of the organization and allow everyone else to assert theirs.
  9. Build a leadership platform of messages that articulate your agenda.
  10. Be able to speak simply, clearly and succinctly.
  11. Speak in a clear, strong and decisive voice tone.
  12. Know how much to speak and when not to speak.
  13. Speak to inspire others to give their best.
  14. Know the rules of political savvy to get things done with as little disturbance as possible.
  15. Embody a solid physical presence. Be able to get out of your head and into your body so others sense your presence in the room.
  16. Be supercharged with psycho-physical energy that is known as soul or superpower.
  17. Experience the ability to contain your internal energies so that you can hold boundaries.

The above is my current working list. I know it will grow. Some of these are energetic qualities, some are communication skills and some are ways of being that hold power. If you would like to work on developing executive presence characteristics, reach out to me by phone or email from my website. We can explore what you want to develop that can take you to the next level of leadership in your organization.



by Self-Expression Center Staff

The dictionary states that there are two definitions for the words present and presentation.  The first definition for present is to exist or occur in the moment; but the second definition is what intrigues me the most for both forms of the word – to bestow or give a gift.

How often do we actually give a presentation that is so cerebral and soulless that we know we have bored the socks off of all attendees?  Why do we do that when this is our opportunity to “shine” to give our gift to the audience?  Are we really giving them a “gift” bestowing them with the passion that fuels us, or just breezing through the speech trying to get out of the spotlight?  My guess for most of us is the later, just get me away from the central focus and let me slink back to my office. It was time to open presents and you do not have one to give!

I have had very few inspirational speakers come in to my life, those who choose to endow my spirt with what fueled their passions.  The most memorable came from the field of education.  My high school English teacher ignited my passion for analyzing literature with her wonderful southern drawl and her keen sense of wrapping us in to her love of the written word.  Never once did I catch myself feeling bored. Her words streamed into my being and filled me with knowledge.

My college biology professor was the most splendid speaker I have ever had the privilege of hearing.  This was biology 101, he had to feel so above teaching this group of let’s get credit for this class and move on freshmen.  However he took that semester with us and gave it all he had to convert us into science lovers.  He could make dissecting a cat and learning every body part therein stimulating and fun.  I never believed I could “love” science, but as they say “enthusiasm is catching”.    Both of these exceptional educators came to the stage daily and gave their audiences their “gifts”.

Imagine the affect that we could all have on the world if we could open up and present our gifts to our audiences.  Whether it be a meeting among your team, a presentation to a client or a speaking engagement, think about the results you could obtain from spreading your excitement to others

Learn to share your passion and fuel your audience with the master of “shining” Sandra Zimmer.  You may contact her via the website or by phoning 281-293-7070


Leaders Need Comfort in the Skin for Public Speaking

What is often misnamed as fear of public speaking is one of the best-kept secrets of corporate leaders. It is surprising how few leaders feel really comfortable speaking in public settings and being the center of attention. Much has been written about fear of public speaking, but what I think has not been clearly understood is that the problem is not about speaking.  Nor is it about lack of expertise or not knowing one’s subject matter.

The problem is more often that a leader does not feel comfortable in the skin when standing in front of others. There is something about standing up to speak in front of a group that unnerves people you would not expect to be unnerved.

Here is an illustrative story that one of my former clients told me in August 2014.

“Last night I was invited to a VIP dinner of some top (50 or so) tech execs (I was a substitute). It was a dinner banquet-type event with CEO’s and other senior executives from the area’s top firms.  In the beginning was the din of cocktail period with these apparent stars of industry clustered in each other’s knowing glow. I knew only a few of them, so I just chatted with one guy and otherwise kept to myself. But I had that feeling of being an outsider.  Later was an interesting thing. After we all sat in our reserved seats at our round tables, we each were asked to stand up one by one, holding a microphone, and introduce ourselves. Nearly everyone looked uncomfortable. The voices of two with high sounding titles actually warbled.”

Public speaking tends to shake us down into a common humanity.   Confidence and arrogance break down as even industry stars experience the tremors of what happens when they have not learned to be comfortable in their skin in front of groups.  In the case of the tech leaders in my client’s story, those guys knew their subjects well. They were undoubtedly brilliant at what they did.  But, faced with having to introduce themselves standing up with a microphone, their bodies filled with intensity and their voices trembled.

The missing ingredient is comfort in one’s skin – that is being comfortable being who one is in front of other human beings.  Because I experienced this problem to a great degree, I have made developing comfort in your skin the first level of my work in coaching or training people for public speaking and presentation skills. The ability to be comfortable in your skin is a subtle speaking skill that can’t be learned through traditional mechanical approaches to public speaking.

The following are seven subtle speaking abilities that produce comfort in your skin:

  1. Presence – Learn to establish a sense of presence in the moment and presence that holds the center of attention. Learning to ground your energies in your physical body goes a long way to developing comfort in your skin.
  2. Breathing deeply as you speak – Learning to feel your breath deeply in your body as you speak keeps you in this moment.
  3. Risking authenticity – Learn to give yourself permission to be genuine about your inner climate so you can release the pressure of pretending to be perfect. It is OK to say you are nervous and you want to do a good job for your audience.
  4. Contain emotional and psychophysical energies in your body as you speak – Learn to feel your feelings and inner sensations while speaking rather than running away from your feelings. Relax and allow the sensations rather than contracting to avoid them.
  5. Make real connection with listeners – Learn to see people as individuals in the group and to let yourself be seen by them so you establish a sense of we are here together rather than I am up here talking at you.
  6. Think on your feet – Learn to think your thoughts at the same time you are connecting with listeners and holding the space of attention.
  7. Confidence in yourself – Know exactly what you have to offer so you know your place in the group.

Leadership presentation skills training should start with these six subtle skills before requiring participants to speak. I somehow just knew this fact intuitively when I started teaching public speaking skills. When leaders learn these skills first, speaking in front of groups becomes easy and authentic, relaxed and comfortable, connected and compelling.

If you are an emerging leader or know an emerging leader who needs to develop his or her leadership presence in order to represent the organization and grow in a career, look for ways to develop these subtle skills.  If I can help you, reach out by phone or email. Find my contact information on my website.




Impeccable Diction – Dylan Thomas Reading Fern Hill

Diction is articulation of consonant sounds. Consonants make speech clear, crisp and intelligible. I am so grateful to Arthur Lessac of The Lessac Institute for the training in diction he gave me. I realize that my speech is very easy for listeners to understand because of the Lessac Method I know and teach.

Not many people in today’s world speak with impeccable diction, so when I hear good diction, I pay attention. Last week, while driving around town, listening to the local classical radio station, I heard a recording of Dylan Thomas reading his poem Fern Hill. This audio was recorded at Carnegie Hall’s 3rd floor recording studio in 1952.

Not only is Dylan Thomas’s voice arresting and dramatic, but his diction is impeccable! I have rarely heard someone who was not trained by Lessac speak with such perfect diction. Listen to this recording and take note how every consonant is articulated clearly. Notice you can understand every word as he reads.

While his style is overly dramatic for modern speech, his diction provides a great pronunciation lesson.  If you want to develop better diction, get a copy of the poem Fern Hill, listen a few times to Thomas read, and then practice reading aloud articulating the consonants as he does.

Dylan Thomas Reads Fern Hill

If you are a native English speaker who has been accused of mumbling, practice reading Fern Hill. If you are a non-native English speaker, do the same. If you’d like to learn better diction for clear speaking or for accent reduction, please reach out to me by phone or email.



Speaking Confidently LinkedIn Paper on Public Speaking

Dorothea Stuart, a communication coach and consultant from UK, is curating a great new public speaking Paper.Li called Speaking Confidently.

Dorothea is including articles, blog posts and videos centered around public speaking. Her contributors include the biggest names in the public speaking world like Garr Reynolds at Presentation Zen, Nancy Duarte, Tom Antion, Tony Robbins, Lisa Braithwaite and many others including myself, Sandra Zimmer!

Speaking Confidently is an excellent resource for anyone interested in public speaking, presentation skills or thinking on your feet. It is so full of resources, you will need some time to peruse all the options. However, just a few minutes viewing is sure to give you inspiration for your next talk or presentation.
Sandra Zimmer’s Google+


A Gentle Confrontation Skill for Communication

Having a gentle confrontation communication skill allows us to feel a sense of power to influence other’s behaviors. This week I share a very valuable confrontation communication skill learned from my personal trainer JV.

During my training, two young men were using a body bar too close to the mirrored wall.  JV stopped them without hesitation.  Masterfully, JV directed these men to correct dangerous behavior and to act appropriately!

As the assistant manager in charge of training, JV is always on the lookout to keep people safe. He does not let people get away with inappropriate gym etiquette that might be unsafe, impolite or disturbing to others at the gym.

What I admired is that JV does not get angry. Instead he gently leans his body toward the person in a friendly manner and he softly says, “You are doing ___.” Or he says, “You should be doing ____.”

His communication confrontation skill is wonderful to watch when confronting someone. No one ever reacts badly to JV. Instead, they feel his connection, caring and charisma. They just say, “Oh, OK.”

His confrontation skill is a combination of four steps:

1. Leaning in with his shoulder first to get their attention.

2. Using a soft gentle voice with no anger or irritation.

3. Saying what they are doing or not doing.

4. Expecting them to be willing to change the behavior.

Confrontation as a communication skill should be in everyone’s communication toolkit. Next time you need to call someone on their actions, try JV’s skill of communicating gently.  It’s really empowering to know you can influence people’s behavior when needed.

I used to get angry and bristly when people were doing things I did not like. What I realized is that I was expecting them to not want to change. JV taught me that I can just as easily expect them to want to change.

For more guidance on communication skills such as confronting others, consider talking with me about a communication coaching project.  Together, we can create a set of communication skills that you need to succeed.